When I was a teenager, the Vietnam War was raging. Lines from the song–“whose side are you on, boy?”–ran through my brain. Was I in favor of my government, which seemed to be lying to me with every inflated body count? (And why did they think I would be impressed by how many Viet Cong were killed? Was that what they wanted America to stand for?) Or was I in favor of the screaming demonstrators, whose methods of persuasion included burning the American flag and defecating in a university administrator’s office? Did my fitness to exist in the Land of the Free really require me to choose one of these two extremes?
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was feeling conflicted not because I was failing in moral character, but precisely because my moral character was intact.
Over the decades that have passed since the 1960s, I honestly expected to hear more expressions of support for those of us who, like Aristotle, prefer to weigh all the evidence–not just the most extreme claims on both sides of the political spectrum–before arriving at our own considered opinions. Hence this blog.
If you are like me, you are willing to listen to those who speak from the left as well as those who speak from the right. You are not wedded to a particular party, nor do you find it contradictory to have a liberal view on one subject while holding a conservative view on another subject. If a liberal proposal can, without serious problem, be rendered more efficient or less intrusive by means of a conservative amendment, then by all means, let’s include the amendment. And if a conservative proposal can be rendered, without serious problem, more compassionate and less mean-spirited by means of a liberal amendment, then by all means, let’s include the amendment.
I recall hearing that the French have a saying along the following lines: “He who is not liberal when he is young has no heart. He who is not a conservative when he is older has no head.” Can we not strive for the goal of welcoming both the passion of youth and the wisdom of age?